Misogyny in BDSM Dynamics

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A black woman with hand raised in a "stop" gesture.
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We’re living proof that a couple that is egalitarian in every way can still enjoy hot BDSM play. This even includes fantasy scenes that toy with sexist gender-normative themes such as slut shaming and CNC. But as much as the BDSM scene purports to be feminist and all about consent, the unfortunate truth is that whatever societal ills plague the vanilla world are just as present in the BDSM community, including misogyny.

The fact that misogyny exists in BDSM shouldn’t be surprising given that the majority of straight men in the BDSM community identify as dominants and the majority of straight women identify as submissives. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all, or even most, male doms are misogynistic. But it does mean that those who are often attempt to hide behind the dominant label. Some male doms forget that BDSM is essentially about role play. Instead, they act as if subs are inferior and don’t deserve to be treated as equals. In its most extreme form, misogyny in BDSM manifests as outright abuse, but it also shows up in less overt forms. Below are a few of the common ways that chauvinistic doms confuse fantasy with reality.

Making Demands of Subs too Soon 

As pretty much any female sub who’s been on Fetlife or dating apps knows, the second you announce you’re submissive, asshole “doms” immediately crop up. Rather than treating the sub as an equal and a human, they make immediate demands that have never been negotiated or tell the sub what’s going to happen without soliciting input. I encountered a number of self-professed doms like this when I was on dating apps. One guy kept messaging me repeatedly to tell me exactly what would happen on our first date without seeking my opinion, which rankled me. Other guys just cut to the chase and told me how hard they would pound me or something equally adolescent.

Pushing for No Limits and/or No Safeword 

This is one of the biggest red flags there is, but that doesn’t prevent some doms from trying it anyway. They seem to think that a D/s dynamic is more about imposing their will rather than forming a meaningful partnership that involves negotiation and communication. Are there people who play without safewords? Absolutely. But both parties agree to that decision, and it’s predicated on an immense amount of trust and knowledge about each other. It isn’t decreed by the dom. Doms who insist on no limits or safewords are living in a fantasy world where subs have no desires, opinions, or will of their own.

Accusing Subs of Not Being “Real” Submissives 

This attitude is especially insidious. In her book about the NYC pansexual (mostly straight) BDSM scene in the mid-2000s, Staci Newmahr noted multiple instances of male doms “policing submissive identity.” For instance, when Newmahr expressed a strong opinion in the course of a debate, someone asked her if she was sure she was submissive. After only a few weeks in the scene, Newmahr gave up the submissive label, noting that she was “angry about my interactions with many dominant-identified men and deeply troubled by the misogynistic overtones.” Margot Weiss observed similar attitudes in the San Francisco scene around the same time. Female interviewees told her that they were often accused of not being real submissives if they articulated strong opinions. Such attitudes were compounded by racist stereotypes, such as Asian women being quiet and submissive. 

Viewing Subs as Inferior

This attitude shows up most obviously among religious BDSM practitioners who believe they’re fulfilling biblically ordained gender roles. But it also appears more subtly in non-religious D-types who are steeped in toxic masculinity. They often look down on male subs, believing that this is a woman’s role and any man who embraces it is somehow less of a man. For that matter, they don’t think too much of female subs, either. At multiple events over the past few years, Vagabond and I would regularly run into the same male dom. Every time, without fail, he would only interact with Vagabond even when I was right there. I got the distinct impression that he was following a protocol we never established or believed in—one that’s predicated on always deferring to other doms in conversation because they’re somehow superior to subs.

Having a Madonna/Whore Complex 

Men who think this way tend to see women as either relationship material or sex objects and have trouble combing the two concepts. A version of this complex occurs in BDSM relationships when a male dom loses the ability to engage in BDSM with his female sub because he “loves her too much to hurt her.” This might seem benevolent on the surface, but it indicates some deep-seated misogynistic ideas about how a a woman in a relationship deserves to be treated versus a casual sex/play partner. Some men are aware that these archaic notions are terrible for everyone. But others have trouble understanding that the most intense and exciting aspects of BDSM are only available when there’s a solid foundation of trust and respect to serve as a counterbalance in a caring relationship.


What all of these forms of misogyny have in common is that they’ve escaped the confines of fantasy role play and have become reality. As Patrick Hopkins states in an article about simulation versus replication in BDSM, “like a Shakespearean duel on stage, with blunted blades and actors’ training, violence is simulated, but is not replicated.” Similarly, misogyny can be played with in male dom/female sub dynamics but shouldn’t be replicated. I don’t get off on a stranger calling me a nasty cunt, because for all I know, he’s actually a misogynistic creep. But I do get off on my partner calling me that precisely because I know he isn’t and he cares about me. Very few subs are interested in truly being disrespected and thought of as less than. If the misogyny extends beyond the parameters of the negotiated scene or dynamic and is, in fact, representative of male doms’ true feelings, then it becomes problematic. In the end, BDSM should be an escape from reality, not a mirror image of it.

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